‘Vacation’ (2015) Review: Another Trip Down Holiday Road

'Vacation'

Movie Rating:

3

When the remake of ‘Vacation’ was first announced, the internet crashed under the weight of a collective groan. The original film and its Christmas sibling are undeniable comedy classics with an ideal combination of satirical wit, crowd-pleasing slapstick, and just enough family sentiment. It’s almost impossible to get that combination right, as ‘European Vacation’ and to a lesser extent ‘Vegas Vacation’ proved. Yet, if you can remove those two entries from your mind and remember the depths the franchise has sunk to (don’t forget ‘Christmas Vacation 2’ and those horrible motel commercials), this new iteration has plenty of laughs. Maybe even enough to earn another Christmas sequel if audiences show up.

This time the movie is about Rusty (Ed Helms), now a grown-ass man with his own family, but just as awkward as his father. Typically, every summer vacation for his family involves the same boring trip to the same boring cabin, but this year he wants to take the fam’ on a road trip to Wally World. Co-writers/directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein (who previously wrote ‘Horrible Bosses’ and are set to script the next ‘Spider-Man’) have some fun with meta humor commenting on the fact that this is a sequel/remake. (The highlight involves a nostalgic trip through a photo book of the previous movies even though the kids were played by different actors every time.) Then Rusty rents a ridiculous family car filled with built in gags (two chugging gas tanks, suicide doors, odd mirrors, screaming GPS, etc.), shoves his wife (the perpetually underrated Christina Applegate) and two sons (the charmingly geeky Skyler Gisondo and pintsized foul-mouthed bully Steele Stebbins) inside and they hit the road.

From there, ‘Vacation’ is essentially a sketch comedy movie with car-travel connecting the sketches. Hilarious cameos pile up from the likes of Tim Heidecker, Keegan-Michael Key and Charlie Day, with each given some sort of darkly comedic odyssey to put the family through. The tone is broad and lightly anarchistic with all manner of bodily secretions and taboos milked for laughs.

Daley and Goldstein are clearly reverent fans of the original ‘Vacation’ and tap into the National Lampoon subversion and hard R shenanigans that many people forget were inherent to that flick. The biggest highlight is a stop-off to visit Rusty’s sister Audrey (the always welcome Leslie Mann), where Chris Hemsworth scores some big giggles as a twisted Right-wing douchebag and beefcake with a massive‚Ķ ego. Other stops include a nostalgic trip through Applegate’s boozed-up college days (giving her a chance to do some top notch vomit humor) and pretty much anything else that’ll give Helms a chance to do his hopelessly geeky and politely embarrassed routine in the face of some sort of humiliation. Not all of the gags land, but the beauty of this sort of sketch structure is that if one sequence doesn’t tickle your fancy, you only have to wait a few minutes for something that will. The only real bummer is seeing Chevy Chase desperately mug for laughs during his inevitable cameo. Chances are that Daley and Goldstein probably wrote him some funny material, but he abandons it in favor of tired physical business that went out of fashion somewhere in the middle of the Carter administration.

By virtue of the fact that ‘Vacation’ reboots a beloved comedy institution, it’s basically set up to fail with critics. The original ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ is kind of a masterpiece in how it weaves together satirical nastiness and relatable family observations. (John Hughes and Harold Ramis were quite the team of masterminds, after all.) Truthfully, the new ‘Vacation’ does fall flat whenever it attempts to pull back from its cartoonish excess and deliver anything resembling family sentiment or reality. The central Griswold clan are definitely all talented enough actors to pull that off when required, but the batshit insane tone that Daley and Goldstein pitched their ‘Vacation’ at simply won’t allow it. This is a pure laugh factory that delivers plenty of sex and potty humor (some fantastic filth, by the way, just the sort of thing that many will dismiss because they feel above that sort of thing).

It’s definitely a funny flick and far better than any ‘Vacation’ reboot had the right to be. As long as you remember how low some entries in this series sunk before this one, there’s no denying that it’s at least successful enough to rate somewhere in the middle of the franchise. That ain’t bad. Against all odds, this ‘Vacation’ is one of the unexpected comedy highlights of the summer for those who like to laugh at the rude, the crude and the ridiculous.

6 comments

  1. Timcharger

    Phil, you write like you’re a card trick magician.
    Repeatly defecting the audience’s conclusion of
    where the trick reveal will be. So Phil likes it…
    No, no, Phil hates it… Wait, wait so Phil does like it…

    It was a somewhat fun game to read the review,
    but at the same time I don’t want reviews to be a
    magic show. Tell me your card and skip the
    theatrics.

    (And I want to avoid just looking at the stars and
    ignore your write-up.)

    1st sentence of paragraph: misdirection blurb.
    Last sentence of paragraph: opposite blurb.

    And it’s not just this review.

    Maybe what I’m saying is a compliment.
    Maybe it’s not.
    (Was that fun for you?)

    But seriously, is this an unconscious style or do
    you deliberately write this way?

    • Phil

      I’m just being honest in my reaction. It’s rare that anyone love or hate something purely and outright. Normally there’s some little grey. I try to reflect that rather than being merely being harsh in one direction or the other.

      • Timcharger

        I get what you’re saying. If you love or despise something,
        the 1st sentence to the last sentence will be filled with rose
        petals or venom. So there’s no theatrics there.

        But there’s this “reveal” aspect to your writing. Sometimes,
        until your final paragraph, I’m not sure what direction you’re
        leaning. Even if that leaning was down the middle. Your final
        paragraph could have 1) skewered the film or 2) saved the
        film or 3) a lukewarm: it aint bad, and all the prior paragraphs
        would still be okay with all 3 endings.

        Great for murder mystery writing or a magic show.

        I’m not hating it. I’m just noticing it more.

        • Phil

          Oh, that might be unconscious to be honest. I didn’t realize I always did it. Um…I guess I want to give people a reason to read the whole review?

  2. I had a great time with this movie. Much more enjoyable and hilarious than I thought it would be.

    The best line in the whole movie is delivered straight-faced by a kid: “I’d have shot you right off that f–king horse.”

  3. Peter

    Wow, I’m surprised. I actually may check this movie out. When I first heard of this remake, like the rest of the internet, I groaned and figured it would be absolutely terrible. I had no intention of ever watching this. Phil is usually tough (as he should be but many critics are not) so if he says there are funny parts here and it is not terrible, I believe him.

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